Catholics in Germany don’t want to rewrite dogma, but move the discussion forward


When Catholics in Germany recently gathered for their latest session of the Synodal Path, there were tensions around a text arguing that current Church dogma; teachings on sexual morality need to evolve.

Several bishops at the September 8-11 assembly baulked at the proposal.

But Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, who is currently a member of Pope Francis’ circle of top advisors (Council of Cardinals) and past president of the German Bishops’ Conference (2014-2020), actually defended the motion.

The cardinal, who turns 69 next week and will soon mark the 15th anniversary of his appointment to Bavaria’s most important diocese, said it was all part of the paradigm shift that German Catholics are pushing for.

Marx, who was one of the main initiators of the Synodal Path, told La Croix’s Delphine Nerbollier that a key aspect of the synodal process is “to ask questions, debate, and advance the discussion”.

The text on sexual morality that was presented to the synodal assembly on September 8 failed to obtain the two-thirds majority required of the bishops present.

Among other things, it proposes that homosexual couples and remarried divorcees be afforded the “blessing of God expressly promised by the Church”.

How do you explain that the required two-thirds majority was not reached?

Cardinal Reinhard Marx: This text is controversial and requires further discussion within the universal Church, but it is important and we cannot put the subject aside.

It consists of a paradigm change and perspective toward sexual morality and social ethics.

It is a process. We are going to talk about it again within the episcopal conference.

I would like to point out that this text was accepted by more than 80% of the members of the synodal assembly and by 62% of the bishops.

In your opinion, what role did the press release issued by the Holy See Press Office in July play in the rejection of this text?

That’s a question for each bishop to answer. I think that each one of them already had his position prior to its publication.

Some expressed themselves, others less so. During this synodal assembly, some felt a little more pressure to express themselves.

The point is that we need to be more open with each other and justify our positions. We must not only represent an opinion, but defend it.

I don’t think (the Vatican) statement played a role because it didn’t bring anything new to the table.

None of us wants to replace the pope, to override canon law or to rewrite the Church’s dogma. What we want is to ask questions, debate, and advance the discussion. We are part of the universal Church.

We have the mission to bring to it all the elements that seem important to us.

Is it difficult for the bishops to face so many theologians and lay people in this synodal process?

In Germany we have a long tradition of having lay men and women and professors of theology, especially in the synodal committees of the dioceses.

So most bishops are used to having lay people contradict them.

But of course, not everyone likes this. Some bishops have not yet integrated the change of perspective that synodality requires. This too is a process.

How can the German Synodal Path contribute to the World Synod?

I have the impression that some in Rome and elsewhere are watching the German synodal path with some apprehension.

For example, we have received letters from bishops in Poland, the United States and the Nordic Bishops’ Conference.

It is therefore important that we present texts that are theologically very well argued and worked out.

In this fourth session of the synodal journey, we adopted texts on the possibility of creating a synodal council in Germany and on the place of women in the Church, with the support of two-thirds of the bishops.

These are absolutely priority themes for the universal Church.

These texts will certainly soon be translated into several languages and may have an influence on the discussion elsewhere in the world.

  • Delphine Nerbollier writes occasionally for La-Croix International.
  • First published in La-Croix International. Republished with permission.
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